Friday, November 26, 2010

A Return to Modesty

In 1999, about a month before I got married, my friend Elisa told me about A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit.  I don't know why I wasn't too interested in the book at the time.  Maybe I was too busy; maybe I didn't care; maybe I was afraid the book would be too much info for my innocent mind.

Every couple of years since then, my husband says, "Remember that book, A Return to Modesty that Elisa told you about?  You should read it."  Finally after reading a review of Shalit's Girls Gone Mild (2007), I have.

I've quite enjoyed the book.  I especially enjoyed it because mostly it was the culture I grew up in.  Shalit is just a year older than I am and finished college also just a year before I did.  She explores and expresses in so much detail all aspects of modesty and perceptions of sexuality in our culture.  It's like she boldly took the words right out of my mouth (or mind) and also put new thoughts into my head.  And yes, it definitely would have been too much for my innocent mind in 1999.  I could have used an edited (slightly censored) version of the book, especially back then!  (See how I had to crop the cover of the book?  Just a little too racy for me.)  Shalit agrees that she is defending modesty "in the most obscene way" so that "our culture would . . . reconsider it."  I think she's right in that.  You can tell she is well educated and has thought a ton about this topic.  Her writing is very good.  I haven't read so many big words in over a decade!

I know the book was mainly directed toward young, single people, not old, married people, but the message still applies -- especially in raising children.  Some points that stood out to me:
  • Shalit writes about the sex education and attitudes towards sex in the public school systems in some states.  I had no idea it was that bad!  After reading that, I can definitely see why many people want to home-school their kids.  After reading also about the living arrangements at some colleges and the promiscuous attitudes among students, I can see why some girls want to be stay-at-home daughters and avoid the whole college scene.  I became extremely grateful for my upbringing in the bubble of conservative Utah.  I also became extremely grateful for the opportunities I had to go LDS colleges where we had curfews, we always had to have 3 in an apartment, curtains open if a guy was around, etc.  I was also glad that typically in Mormon culture, if your relationship with a boy dies after you've reached the kissing stage, at least all you've lost is just a kiss, nothing more important like your virtue!
  • In the past, modesty kept women safe. Men respected women's modesty and respected that women were different.
  • Maybe our inhibition and embarrassment about sex is there for a reason.  These feelings can protect us from getting hurt in an intimate relationship that is not committed.
  • Women are more selective about a sexual partner than a man.  They want someone who will stick around.  A man doesn't get so romantically/emotionally involved, and is more okay with casual sex; however, some people want women to believe they are as unemotional about the whole idea as men.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s basically "'permitted . . . more access to women's bodies by more men; what it actually achieved was not a great deal of liberation for women but a great deal of legitimacy for male promiscuity; what it actually passed on to women was the male fragmentation of emotion from body, and the easily internalized schism between . . . sex and responsible loving'" (192).
  • Kids do want rules.  They may not actually do what we say, but because we say it, at least they know we care and have some expectation of them.  We also need to listen to them and not brush off their concerns so they won't take even more extreme measures to get our attention. 
  • Modesty can be more intriguing that bearing it all.  It also causes others not to judge a woman just by her body.
  • If a man can get sex without a marriage commitment, then there's no reason for marriage -- and it ruins any romantic hope of women for catching a man for forever.
  • Shalit also pointed out, not quite related to modesty, that it was not the "patriarchy" but feminist writings that discouraged young women from staying home and raising a family (142).
I am excited to read Girls Gone Mild now to see what has changed in 8 years.  I wish I could find the audio book because reading takes up so much of my precious time!